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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 10 October 2005

Topic: God and US

Secular Government: Who Believes, and Why?

Much of last weekend's edition of Just Above Sunset seemed to center on the very odd nomination of Harriet Miers, the president's personal attorney, to the Supreme Court. And it seems the controversy will not trail off - it only get more intense.

There seem to be three issues in play.

The first is her competence and ability. She has never been a judge, but others who have not been judges have been confirmed and served, like the last Chief Justice, William Rehnquist. But these others were scholars of the law and had some history of writing and thinking about, and arguing cases about, constitutional law. There's none of that in this woman's background. There's just no record of Miers having ever thought about such things very much. As noted last week, this has conservative opinion leaders upset, and has forced the argument in some pretty basic matters. As noted, shall the senate consider whether she has "the ability to critically ponder complex legal issues and concepts," or is that somehow elitist and should be taken off the table, as the president has said - "I know her character, I know her strength, I know her talent, and I know she's going to be a fine judge." - "It's one thing to say a person can read the law - and that's important ... But what also matters is the intangibles. To me a person's strength of character counts a lot. And as a result of my friendship with Harriet, I know her strength of character."

She has a good heart. Isn't that enough? Of course this is part and parcel of the nature of the most anti-intellectual leader we have ever had - a man who doesn't know much, wants to know even less, and trusts his instincts rather than thinking things through. If fact, he seems contemptuous of people who think things through. And he likes simplicity - and folks who are loyal and not too smart, or at least don't show it.

All this may get him in trouble - and all of us in trouble - but only now are his supporters realizing this is a serious problem. In the popular culture you have Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" saying things like this: "She's never been a judge before. Never served on the bench. This is part of President Bush's strategy of only surrounding himself with people who also in over their heads." And even Fox News, one week out, is forced to report what must be said: Conservative Critics Question Miers' Abilities.

Well, she's a blank slate. Leno again: "Bush's number one choice, Harriet Miers issued a statement today saying that she is getting closer and closer to having an opinion on something."

The second issue is one of cronyism. The man is comfortable with what he knows, and doesn't want to know more. In a parallel way, he is comfortable with the small circle of people he knows, and sees no reason to deal with "new people." Some critics, on the right, see this as arrogance, as in this: "I think this was a pick made out of droit de seigneur - an 'I am the president and this is what I want' arrogance." And there's this: "What people see in this is the Bush of the first debate, the Bad Bush, the peevish rich boy who expects to get his way because it's his way." But those comments seem off the mark.

Choosing to know little, and to know few people, is a kind of willful narrowness. It speaks to what makes you uncomfortable. He's comfortable with the known. And he trusts that attitude resonates with almost all Americans, as we are an insular, xenophobic lot. There is a reason fewer than one in five Americans holds a passport, much less uses it. We don't get around much. We understand. Who would blame him?

The third issue, floating around, is religion. Last week, James Dobson, of Focus on the Family reluctantly said Harriet Miers will make a great Supreme Court justice. He's been telling all his radio listeners, who want abortion banned and gays to go away and America to be solely Christian, that there's something else going on. Don't worry. She's with "us." But he won't say how he knows this. As he told the New York Times here, he'd been to the White House and talked with Karl Rove and the gang, and "some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about."

The implication was that even though Miers was once a Catholic, she had found Jesus and left "the cult of Mary" at the age of forty. She joined a large evangelical church in Texas, had the full-immersion baptism thing (not a measly few drops of water on the forehead), and Rove told Dobson she would vote the way Dobson and his follows wanted. (Yes, forty was the age at witch George Bush gave up Jim Beam for Jesus.)

That business with Dobson and Rove seemed some sort of secret, backdoor deal - give us your support and we'll guarantee how she votes on your issues.

That just made things worse. As in Senators want to probe possible 'deals' on Miers and White House Denies 'Deal' for Miers - and from the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Specter May Subpoena Dobson on Miers 'Assurances'.

A subpoena? Yipes.

The White House line is that the conservatives should relax. Leno again: "Today President Bush tried to assure conservatives that Harriet Miers was the best choice for the Supreme Court. Bush said 'Twenty years from now she'll be the same person she is today.' Really? Twenty years ago she was a Democrat and Catholic."

When the mainstream comics turn against you, there's trouble. And over at National Review Online, reading "The Corner" - the running commentary of thought on the right - dialogs hosted by Jonah Goldberg where all the big-name pundits have their say in quick snippets - you get John Podhoretz, one of their main guys, saying this: "The White House needs to know this. Really. It's getting worse. Trust me."

The problem seems to be that the Republicans made a commitment to the religious right, the evangelical born-again crowd, that for their support they would throw them a bone now and then. And the religious right felt - after all the years of being mocked and having to endure people arguing "under God" had no place in the Pledge of Allegiance, and being told officers at the Air Force Academy couldn't demand all cadets find Jesus, and they couldn't force all children in public school to mouth their approved prayers every day, and they couldn't have cities and states finance religious displays, and so on - well, this was pay-back time. They'd get this born again church lady or someone like her.

Dobson was telling them he'd gotten the guarantee. And now that isn't working out.

The problem is the Republicans are dealing with a whole bunch of folks who are claiming victim status, and demanding relief. (In these pages see, from May, The Oppressed Minority - Christians in America and Conservative Republicans - one of the few posts here cited in many places, oddly enough.)

As they drive their SUV's to their massive suburban churches every Sunday, with their party controlling the executive, both houses of congress and most of the judiciary, the folks feel aggrieved and resentful. Really. Then they go home and watch Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, with a far larger audience than CNN and all the rest. Go figure.

They're powerless victims? They've been working on it, as explained by David John Marley here:
Pat Robertson was the most visible leader of this new "Christians as a minority" argument. After his campaign for president ended in 1988, he increasingly used the rhetoric of oppression to gain sympathy for his cause. Robertson compared Christians in America to Jewish Holocaust victims during a discussion of the film The Last Temptation of Christ. He claimed, "once you assault what people believe, like Hitler did the Jews in Germany, the next thing you do is go after them. ... that's the first opening shot, if you will, in the war to destroy the Christian population in America and the world."

While Ralph Reed, now a campaign strategist for President George W. Bush, ran the Christian Coalition he explicitly compared the Christian Right to the civil rights movement. Reed's 1994 book Politically Incorrect contained chapter titles like "To The Back of the Bus" and "The New Amos and Andy." He claimed that Christians were constantly "under attack whenever they enter the public arena." While he did not believe, as Robertson did, that Christians were being systematically persecuted, Reed claimed that conservative Christians had been "viewed as less than full citizens."
And now?

Kaye Grogan at Renew America says this:
The liberals want justices legislating from the bench, who will make their own laws favoring their way-out agenda, while the conservatives want justices who will interpret the laws correctly and rule accordingly. And betwixt the two common ground will never be reached. Not only do I find it appalling that Harriet Miers has been attacked by the anti-Christian folks - I take it as a personal attack on all Christians. The anti-Christian groups are "infringing" upon the rights of Christians to worship freely. This is a "blatant" disregard of Amendment I of the "Bill of Rights" where it states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It is also up to congress to protect the religious rights of Americans - but the silence is deafening in the "halls of Congress" as they avoid confronting the abuse of Christians at the hands of the "godless" folks.
Michael J. Gaynor at The Conservative Voice says this:
Would United States Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers have been better received as a nominee if she were a "progressive" Jewish man instead of a conservative evangelical Christian woman?

Is one evangelical Christian Supreme Court nominee since the Herbert Hoover administration (1929-1933) one too many?

... Justice Brandeis was 60 years old when he joined the Supremes. Ms. Miers is 60 years old.

Justice Brandeis had no prior judicial experience. Neither does Ms. Miers.

As a Jew, Justice Brandeis overcame discrimination and stereotypes. As a woman, so did Ms. Miers. The first woman hired by her law firm, she became the head of the firm, the head of the Dallas Bar Association and the head of the Texas Bar Association.

Justice Brandeis went to law school and practiced law privately in Massachusetts. Ms. Miers went to law school and practiced law privately in Texas.

As a American, Justice Brandeis had strong progressive beliefs that appealed to the President who nominated him, Woodrow Wilson, who often consulted him before nominating him. Ms. Miers has strong conservative beliefs that appeal to the President who nominated her, George W. Bush, who regularly consulted with her during his Presidency.

Justice Brandeis was a leader of the American Zionist movement. His political and religious views were not disqualifying. Neither should Ms. Miers' views be disqualifying.
Ah, evangelical Christians - the new Jews.

The always acerbic and perpetually grumpy Christopher Hitchens has a few things to say about all this.

Miers and Brimstone
Let's stop pretending there's no religious test for nominees.
Christopher Hitchens - Posted Monday, Oct. 10, 2005, at 9:21 AM PT SLATE.COM

It's hard to like this guy, but sometimes he's spot-on:
What in God's name - you should forgive the expression - is all this about there being "no religious test" for appointments to high public office? Most particularly in the case of the U.S. Supreme Court, there is the most blatant religious test imaginable. You may not even be considered for the bench unless you have a religion of some kind. Surely no adherent of any version of "originalism" can possibly argue that the Framers of the Constitution intended a spoils system to be awarded among competing clerical sects.
On the previous nominee:
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the man who is now our chief justice. I pointed to unrebutted evidence that, in answer to a direct question from a fellow Catholic (Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill.), Roberts had replied that in the case of a conflict between the law and the teaching of the Vatican, he would recuse himself. Since obviously it is impossible to nominate, let alone confirm, anyone who does not answer that the law and the Constitution should control in all cases, I proposed that Roberts ought to be asked the question again and in public. For this, I got exactly what I expected: allegations of anti-Catholic bigotry from the fideists at National Review and then (not just for my benefit) a full-page ad or two in the press, saying that anyone who dared raise such a question would be accused of applying ? "a religious test." Roberts got suavely through his hearings without the inconvenience of the question, had a large Bible with illuminated crucifix in the family photo-op with the president, and now joins his three fellow Catholics on the court.
On the current nominee:
Of the nomination of Harriet Miers, by contrast, it can be said that only her religion has been considered by her conservative fans to be worth mentioning. What else is there to say, in any case, about a middling bureaucrat and yes-woman than that she attends some mediocre place of worship? One could happily make a case that more random civilians, and fewer fucking lawyers, should be on the court. But the only other thing to say about Miers is that she is a fucking lawyer. Her own opinion of herself is somewhat higher: She does not attribute her presence among us to the laws of biology but chooses to regard herself as having a personal and unmediated relationship with the alleged Jesus of Nazareth, who is further alleged to be the son of God. Such modesty! On this basis, the president and his people have felt able to issue assurances of her OK-ness. So, as far as I can determine, she was set, and has passed, a religious test: that of being an "Evangelical" Christian.
Well, that seems good enough for the masses (queue Marx here regarding opiates). And then he lays into the Democrats for putting up with this nonsense. But hey too know where the votes are.

Well, having just published a book on Thomas Jefferson, Hitchens seems to be caught in an earlier version of America. He seems to think we're a secular nation, or at least a nation that leaves matters of religion to the individual, as government is hard enough as it is.

Yeah, the key document, the constitution mentions that, but we have become post-secular. Times change.

But what of this woman? This:
Either Miers takes her faith seriously, in which case it must be her life's mission to redeem those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior, or she does not, in which case she is a vapid and posturing hypocrite. And either she is nominated in order to gratify a political constituency, whose leaders such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family seem to have had advance notice, or she is not, in which case the president could see no further than his own kitchen Cabinet in searching for merit. So, the whole exercise is a disgusting insult.
She cannot be a good Christian and a dispassionate judge at the same time? Perhaps the two are antithetical. Not that is matters. The political constituency she must gratify hardly expects her to check her religious fervor at the door of the court each morning. They rather expect the opposite.

We have not only become post-secular, we have become post-logical, and as "instinctive" and anti-intellectual as the man we finally and clearly chose to lead us. We hate that stuff. As Hitchens puts it -
But what is honest skepticism - and a regard for evidence and logic - when set against the profession of a mere "faith" that neither demands nor offers any evidence of any kind? And this latter "qualification" is now urged upon us with special fervor in the selection of - a judge.
Well, she may soon sit on the bench with this fellow (from January 24, 2005) -
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday that people of faith should not fear being viewed by "educated circles" as "fools for Christ."

The justice - in Baton Rouge to address the Knights of Columbus Council 969 centennial celebration without charging a fee - told a largely Roman Catholic crowd of 350 at the Holiday Inn Select that there's nothing wrong with "traditional Christianity."

"To believe in traditional Christianity is something else," Scalia said. "For the son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe that he rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous. To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell?

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed."

... "If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."
This is our Supreme Court. Dare to be all you can be - be stupid.

Okay. Fine.

Well people need religion, as seen in this email over at Andrew Sullivan's' site, commenting on what Sullivan said on television last week:
As a recovering alcoholic and survivor of rape and childhood sexual abuse, there has been nothing but faith at times that has allowed me to continue living (sober!) in a world I have frequently wished to desert. I discovered a higher power through the 12 steps and continue to know that power in my life; I often come across people who misunderstand, who consider reliance on a higher power to be weak and cowardly, or even stupid...

One thing I have learned through all of my experiences in dealing with matters of the spirit is that the word "God" has meanings attached to it that have undermined it and spoiled it, and that when people use that word, they have one concept in mind, which of course is very limited. One other thing I have learned is that people who have never found themselves in a situation that they could not possibly comprehend or conquer through their own wills and resources (or resources they've been given by others) are the quickest to say that there is no God. Not that I wish them to experience that - okay, maybe sometimes. Anyway, your comments about learning to love and be in this world were so very important for me to hear and truly validated my personal work and the message I carry to other women and those who may be suffering.
A second letter Sullivan received:
After years of being told by people of faith (almost exclusively Christians) that my lack of same must be due to some horrible event in my life, some trauma that convinced me there couldn't possible be a benevolent controlling intelligence behind the universe, I now read from your e-mail correspondent that "people who have never found themselves in a situation that they could not possibly comprehend or conquer through their own wills and resources (or resources they've been given by others) are the quickest to say that there is no God."

So now my lack of faith is apparently down to the absence of trauma, rather than an over-abundance of it. (Could it possibly be that faith or the lack of it is more about the individual and how he or she deals with trauma than it is about traumatic events themselves? Perhaps different people just deal differently.)

I'm not sure why people feel the need to come up with some aberrational explanation for my failure to share their beliefs, but this gratuitous insult - supplemented by the expressed (and rather un-Christian) wish that I one day experience such horror - spoiled what would otherwise have been an affecting account of one person finding a way to deal with the trouble in her life.
Ah, people always spoil things, as in this -
After news broke that local law enforcement officials were investigating complaints that Louis Beres, longtime chairman of the Christian Coalition of Oregon, had molested three female family members when they were pre-teens, The Oregonian in Portland went out and interviewed Beres' family members.

Two told reporters that Beres, indeed, had molested them. All three said they have been interviewed for several hours by detectives.

"I was molested," said one of the women, now in her early 50s. "I was victimized, and I've suffered all my life for it. I'm still afraid to be in the same room with [Beres]."

The coalition led by Beres, 70, champions socially conservative candidates and causes. Its Web site describes the group as "Oregon's leading grassroots organization defending our Godly heritage." The group opposes abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research. It is affiliated with the national Christian Coalition, which was founded in 1989 by television evangelist Pat Robertson.
"How can one better magnify the Almighty than by sniggering with him at his little jokes, particularly the poorer ones." - Samuel Beckett: Winnie, in Happy Days, Act 1 (1961)

Posted by Alan at 23:59 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005 00:12 PDT home

Topic: Photos

Our Man in Paris: Goddesses on Display (with photos)
As mentioned previously, from the BBC: Citroen 'goddess' feted in Paris (byline Hugh Schofield) -
France has marked the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century - the Citroen DS, or Deesse, saloon car.

Hundreds of DS cars from around Europe drove in procession past the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.

Known by its nickname, the Goddess - Deesse in French - the car was an instant sensation when it went on display at the Paris car show in 1955.

Nearly one-and-a-half million were made during its 20 years in production. …
AFP: Paris Rally Marks Birthday Of The 'Goddess' - Design Icon On Wheels -
PARIS, Oct 9 (AFP) - Hundreds of "Goddesses" paraded through central Paris on Sunday morning - not a religious festival or a fashion show, but a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century: the Citroen DS saloon car. …
From Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, and on-the-scene report, with photos -
Sunday Goddess

PARIS, Monday, October 10: - I should have gone to see the DS parade even if it was so early in the morning. The weather was clear; it was warm and still. I thought, oh, another big event on the Champs-Elysées. It is two-thirds as wide as a football field is long and it's very long. Put in 1600 DS' sliding down it and what have you got? The Champs Elysées part of their parade wasn't even shown on the TV-news. I can't trust them with anything.

So I was finally up there, probably about three hours later, figuring that some of these DS crazies would be taking Sunday drives. A lot of people do - come in at Concorde and sweep around the Obelisque and hit the avenue with its super long view up to the Arc, and roll up there and twirl around the Etoile in the sunshine - you can go around as often as you want - it's free. And then peel off into the top of the avenue and nearly coast all the way back to Concorde, using the Obelisque as the gunsight blade behind the doodad on the hood.

Meanwhile, a quarter-million folks are on the sidewalks, one on the sunny side and the other in the shade. Most of the shops are closed but all the cinemas, restaurants and cafés are open and many have terraces even on the shady side. Plus Louis Vuitton is having a gala opening at George V - Sharon Stone, Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder among the VIPs and 2000 other glitzer volk, not forgetting Catherine Deneuve of course. In the evening only the newly renovated Petit Palais is good enough for the ball, possibly because the newly renovated Grand Palais across the street is full of some other grand promo.

When you get to the Rond-Point you leave the 'famous' Champs Elysées for the rest, which is equally long and wide, but is flanked by wide paths and lines of trees. In these are ritzy pavilions, parks, theatres and the palaces, the Petit and Grand. The used stamp market is in here [as in the movie - editor] and there are rustic snack kiosks, toilets, and it is a long park on either side of the avenue, with the leaves going brown at the moment.

The avenue ends, or begins, at the Place de la Concorde. This is a big stone place with an island in the middle with the Obelisque sticking up and two fountains, one of the seas and the other of rivers. Folks making the trek from the Tuileries on the other side stop to inspect the gilt diagrams on the Obelisque and wonder about the sexual aspects of the fountain figures. You could say that Concorde with its Obelisque and Etoile with its Arc form a unit joined by the Champs-Elys?es and the whole otto is a singularly rich and unique experience several kilometres long and very wide.

Others might say that it extends through the garden of the Tuileries to the east wing of the Louvre in the Cour Napoléeacute;on. If you stand by this wing you can see the close-up Pyramid, slightly off the axis, the Obelisque and the Arc way off in the distance. It is in fact a geographical unit, actually extending beyond the Arc, but the Champs Elysées part is a piece of its own. For a straight-line walk it has to be one of the best and it's hard to think of anywhere else that matches it. Of course, a sunny Sunday makes it better.

And I was right. Swimming along with the Sunday drivers were these shark-like cars, the Citroën DS. Fifty years later, coming into the avenue at Clemenceau past the Grand Palais where they were first shown to an astonished driving public. Now doing the rounds of the Champs-Elysées in the October sunshine with the windows open, like God in France.

The Photos

A classic:

The setting:

"Come in at Concorde and sweep around the Obelisque and hit the avenue with its super long view up to the Arc, and roll up there and twirl around the Etoile in the sunshine - you can go around as often as you want - it's free."

At speed:

Yes, Planet Hollywood on the Champs Elysées -

Photos and Text, Copyright © 2005 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

Editor's Note:

This grand promo at the Grand Palais? See Paris fashion week turns heads - "About 100 ready-to-wear shows are scheduled at various venues until October 10, including at some of Paris' architectural jewels such as the Grand Palais, reopened just last month after a 12-year renovation." Recent photos in Just Above Sunset here and here - and the official site of Les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais.

That opening? Louis Vuitton to Inaugurate Largest Store on Champs Elysees.

Orientation - from Google Earth -

... the Grand Palais

The Champs Elysées

Posted by Alan at 11:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005 23:57 PDT home

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Topic: Announcements

Redirection: Commentary and Analysis, London, Paris, Language and Philosophy, Pages and Pages of Photography

The new issue of Just Above Sunset - Volume 3, Number 41 for the week of Sunday, October 9, 2005 - is now on line. This is the weekly online magazine that is parent to this web log. Unlike this site, Just Above Sunset offers additional material -pages of photography and exclusive columns from London and Paris, and often Tel-Aviv.

This Sunday, discussion and analysis of this past week's events are arranged in a sequential "week in review" - and what a week it was, as with the odd nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the various scandals and assorted indictments, drawing in Margaret Thatcher of all people, and a major address on the war on terror that didn't go well, and with the late week warning about bombs in New York subways, and much else having to do with the endless conflict of faith and reason… well, let's just say it was an extraordinary week. The world is changing.

And "Our Man in London," Mike McCahill, presents an exclusive interview with journalist and travel writer Mark Avery, centering on whether we're seeing the end of America. The view from overseas is not what you would expect. Not that things are all that fine in France - Ric Erickson, "Our Man in Paris," reports on the nationwide strike there, with photos, including one showing a group from out here in California marching in solidarity. Of course he gives us a second column on how the French are dealing with the oil crisis - would you believe sunflower oil and Rhône wine in the gas tank?

In features, an item on language expended from what first appered here – on words that just cannot be translated - and quotes on the matter of race - and a link to a new photo album of a hidden place out here that is extraordinary, Topanga Canyon.

Guest photography - Don Smith offers two pages of large format shots of one of the great landmarks of Paris, the Grand Palais, along with more shots of Fuissé, that village in the Mâconnais, down in Burgundy.

Local photography - selected shots of the real heart of eccentric Los Angeles, Topanga Canyon, and instead of botanicals this week, a red tail hawk riding the thermals over the Valley.

(Note - being assembled for next week, guest photographs from two ends of North America, the wilds of the northern end of Canada and Monument Valley, Utah.)

Direct links to specific pages:

The Week in Review _________________________

Catching Up: Peculiar News on a Slow News Day
They Call It Stormy Monday - For Good Reason
Two Days Out: Wednesdays with the Church Lady
The Fire Below: Looking Behind the News
The Week Ends Oddly Enough
Assuming a Role: Bush on the Couch

The International Desk _________________________

Our Man in London: The End of America? A Conversation (an interview with journalist and travel writer Mark Avery)
Our Man in Paris: Strike of the Week (on the scene, with photos)
Our Man in Paris (2): Put Some Green Boom In Your Tank

Features _________________________

Language Notes: Words That Cannot Be Translated
Quotes for the week of October 9, 2001 - William Bennett Edition
Links and Recommendations: A New Photo Album (Topanga Canyon)

Bob Patterson _________________________

WLJ Weekly: from the desk of the World's Laziest Journalist - Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
Book Wrangler: Nihilism Means "Nothing" To Me

Guest Photography _________________________

Our Eye on Paris (1): The Grand Palais
Our Eye on Paris (2): The Grand Palais, Details
Our Eye on Paris (3): Harvest in Fuissé

Local Photography _________________________

Topanga Canyon - Its Own Place
Topanga Canyon Hawk - A Red Tail

Also today:

BBC: Citroen 'goddess' feted in Paris (byline Hugh Schofield) -
France has marked the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century - the Citroen DS, or Deesse, saloon car.

Hundreds of DS cars from around Europe drove in procession past the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.

Known by its nickname, the Goddess - Deesse in French - the car was an instant sensation when it went on display at the Paris car show in 1955.

Nearly one-and-a-half million were made during its 20 years in production. ...
AFP: Paris Rally Marks Birthday Of The 'Goddess' - Design Icon On Wheels -
PARIS, Oct 9 (AFP) - Hundreds of "Goddesses" paraded through central Paris on Sunday morning - not a religious festival or a fashion show, but a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great design icons of the last century: the Citroen DS saloon car.

Crowds lined the route leading from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower in order to cheer 1,600 enthusiasts from across Europe driving vehicles of varying colours and vintages, but all with the same curving splendour that made the DS a quintessential object of desire.

The "Goddess" - a play on DS or Deesse in French - was an overnight sensation when it went on display in October 1955 at the Paris motor show, with Citroen taking orders for 750 cars within 45 minutes of the opening and a total of 12,000 by the end of day one.

"It must have been like seeing a flying-saucer landing, when you think of the type of cars that were on the roads in post-war France," said Michel Weiss, secretary of France's leading DS appreciation society.

Conceived by the brilliant Italian designer Flaminio Bertoni, the Citroen DS was both a thing of original beauty and a technological marvel. The sensually curving bodywork was a million miles from the plodding utilitarianism of most mass-produced vehicles of the time.

... For many in France the "Goddess" conjures up nostalgic feelings from the "trente gloriouses" - the idealised post-war era when wealth and scientific progress marched hand-in-hand, Alain Delon and Brigitte Bardot cavorted on still unspoilt Riviera beaches, and Charles de Gaulle ruled France with patriarchal benevolence.

Indeed it was de Gaulle who spotted the vehicle's propaganda potential and made it the staple of the presidential fleet - an inspired choice because in 1962 it was the DS's capacity to stay on the road at speed despite two shot-out tyres that arguably saved him in an assassination bid outside Paris.

Earlier it was the cultural philosopher Roland Barthes who elevated the DS to truly iconic status when he devoted an essay to the car in his groundbreaking "Mythologies."

"The DS - the 'Goddess' - has all the features of one of those objects from another universe which have supplied fuel for the neomania of the 18th century and that of our own science-fiction. The Deesse is first and foremost a new Nautilus," Barthes wrote. ...
Barthes aside, here is the only DS one can find out here, parked on Fountain Avenue, one block south of the Sunset Strip, where all the French expatriates live. In almost fifteen years here in Hollywood, I have never seen this DS in motion. It is an immobile goddess.

Also of note, what we missed in Scotland recently - Citroen owners celebrate the 2CV - BBC NEWS, published: 2005/07/26 20:56:29 GMT (subhead: "Citroen 2CV owners have converged on the Scottish Borders for a festival featuring more than 3,000 of the quirky French automobiles.")

This was held at Floors Castle in Kelso. The photograph of the 2CV enthusiasts in kilts is good.

Posted by Alan at 18:37 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 9 October 2005 18:43 PDT home

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Topic: Oddities

Language Notes: Words That Cannot Be Translated

A bit back, on 26 September 2005 to be precise, John Walsh in The Independent (UK), reviewed a new book, The Meaning of Tingo, by one Adam Jacot de Boinod, published by Penguin Press. You can order it here - it's £10 - or you can order it from Independent Books Direct at a special price of £9 (with free shipping and handling) if you ring them up on 08700 798 897 - but Penguin Press doesn't seem to account for those of us on this side of the pond. One suspects they don't ship to Hollywood. Georgina Pattinson also reviewed the book in BBC Magazine the same day. The Walsh review is here and the Pattinson review here, and know that de Boinod's title is significant as "tingo" is an word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning "to borrow objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left."

What follows is a bit of that. And note that Walsh predicts this will be this year's Eats, Shoots & Leaves - a wildly popular book on grammar and punctuation (really) that has been discussed in these pages by our readers - see April 25, 2004, The Grammatical Panda

Pattinson opens noting that English is a rich and innovative language but says, "You can't help feeling we're missing out." Maybe so, and she notes the English language has borrowed words for centuries, with khaki and croissant her cases in point. Of course, and a good reference is The Growth and Structure of the English Language (1905) by Otto Jesperson, one of the few books still here, in Hollywood, from the old days back in graduate school. If you're at all interested in how language changes, this is good stuff, with curious political implications. What happens when one nation conquers another? Who uses what words? Jesperson covers such things in his notes on how the language changed after the Norman Conquest - 1066 and all that. William of Normandy - French dude - crosses the channel and runs the joint. When the beast is in the field it retains its Anglo-Saxon name - it's a cow - but when it reaches the table, all cooked up, the word used for it then is French in origin - beef. Most curious.

In any event, English is filled with words borrowed from the days of empire, when the sun never set on it all, and useful words were sucked into English, like ketchup, from Tagalog.

Adam Jacot de Boinod is interested in what hasn't yet been sucked into English. Walsh asks many questions: why does German have a word for 'a person who leaves without paying the bill' (Zechpreller) or that Albanians need twenty-seven words for moustache? He suggests that while learning a foreign language is, of course, the surest and fastest track to becoming familiar with another culture, the words themselves offer hundreds of revealing clues to the preoccupations of that culture. Who knows why Albanians are fascinated with moustaches?

Georgina Pattinson (BBC) notes this on those Albanians and the facial hair thing: "Madh means a bushy moustache, posht is a moustache hanging down at the ends and fshes is a long broom-like moustache with bristly hairs. Vetullkalem describes pencil-thin eyebrows, vetullperpjekur are joined together eyebrows and those arched like the crescent moon are vetullhen."


What the author says? "What I'm really trying to do is celebrate the joy of foreign words (in a totally unjudgmental way) and say that while English is a great language, one shouldn't be surprised there are many others having, as they do, words with no English equivalent," he says.

Okay, the guy plowed through 280 dictionaries and surfed 140 websites, and what did he find?

Hawaiians have 108 words for sweet potato, 65 for fishing nets, and 47 for banana.

And "Kummerspeck" is a German word that literally means "grief bacon" - used to describe the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating - while a "Putzfimmel" is a mania for cleaning, and "Drachenfutter" (literally "dragon fodder") are the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives - and, get this, "Backpfeifengesicht" - a face that cries out for a fist in it. That's SO German. On the other hand, the Dutch have "uitwaaien" - a word for walking in windy weather just for the fun of it. No wonder they didn't do so well in the two world wars. And in the Netherlands you have "plimpplampplettere" ? a word for skipping stones on water when you need to relax. These are not serious people.

The Walsh item is the more extensive of the two, and since the book is not yet available stateside, it is the best resource, and contains a long excerpt.

Some of us might be fond of the German term "Torschlusspanik" - "the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older."

Less useful is the Persian word "nakhur" - "a camel that won't give milk until her nostrils have been tickled" - but that might pass into English somehow. "You know, Jane, sometimes you're a real nukhur." It just sounds like a good insult.

Go read the Walsh item. Some of the better words-that-cannot-easily-be-translated:


PANA PO'O Hawaiian - To scratch your head in order to help you to remember something you've forgotten.
NGAOBERA Pascuense, Easter Island - A slight inflammation of the throat caused by screaming too much.
KARELU Tulu Indian - The mark left on the skin by wearing anything tight.


MAHJ Persian - Looking beautiful after having a disease.
BAKKU-SHAN Japanese - A girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn't when seen from the front.
ALGHUNJAR Persian - Feigned anger of a mistress.


KOSHATNIK Russian - A dealer in stolen cats.
BUZ-BAZ Ancient Persian - A showman who makes a goat and monkey dance together.
CAPOCLAQUE Italian - Someone who co-ordinates a group of clappers.
QIANG JINGTOU Chinese - The fight by a cameraman to get a better vantage point.
GRILAGEM Brazilian Portuguese - The practice of putting a live cricket into a box of newly faked documents, until the insect's excrement makes the paper look convincingly old.


LATAH Indonesian - Uncontrollable habit of saying embarrassing things.
YUYURUNGUL Yindiny, Australia - The noise of a snake sliding through grass.
DESUS Indonesia - The quiet, smooth sound of somebody farting but not very loudly.
FAAMITI Samoan - To make a squeaking noise by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or a child.
YUYIN Chinese - The remnants of sound that stay in the ears of the hearer.

Ah, Umberto Eco says problem with translation is the conflict "between the purely theoretical argument that, since languages are differently structured, translation is impossible, and the commonsensical acknowledgement that people, after all, do translate and understand each other." (See his book Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation, reviewed in these pages here, November 16, 2003.)

Things can be translated, sometime you just have to use a lot of words when the original language is a bit more concise.

Posted by Alan at 14:46 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 8 October 2005 14:58 PDT home

Friday, 7 October 2005

Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The Week Ends Oddly Enough

The point, perhaps not made well but attempted anyway, in The Fire Below, was that in looking behind the flow of news stories - a scandal here, a terror warning there, and way over there a speech of note - sometimes you could tease out something of a pattern that let you get a sense of the real cultural dynamics at play. The contention was that the scattered events all pointed to an underlying conflict, and one as old as we've had the ability to think, and then been told too much of thing "thinking" stuff is dangerous.

That conflict tied together the Bush speech and the issues folks had with the woman he nominated to the Supreme Court - he seemed to be saying we all are over-thinking this and we should just trust him. And as laid out with citation after citation, it seems a good number of people just couldn't help themselves. They wanted to think things through, and wanted someone deciding the scope and the limits of the laws of the land to do the same.

Friday Bush was asked about these people and said this: "When she's on the bench people will see a fantastic woman who is honest, open, humble and capable of being a great Supreme Court judge."

He seemed to think that was a fine answer.

The message? "Trust me, confirm and then see if you're surprised or not - and you folks of little faith will see you were right to blindly trust me." People are grumbling about that still.

Here's some representative grumbling from the pro-life (anti-abortion) side, from the Reverend Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International -
Last year Bush asked faithful Catholics to fight for him, campaign for him and vote for him and they did in record numbers; now the President lacks the stomach to fight for the values of those who put him in office.

Bush 41 asked us to read his lips, with disastrous results. Now, Bush 43 is asking us to trust him in a gamble with the lives of millions of unborn babies, with the health and well being of mothers, with the fate of our nation. Pro-life Catholics gambled on Bush last November, the odds do not look in our favor.
It seems Catholic Church has its usual faith in the Holy Trinity, but is having a problem with its faith in George.

But here an odd thing, they don't seem to have the American-style faith in the Holy Bible. The Catholic bishops of England are pretty much telling the American fundamentalists not everything in the Bible is literally true: "We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision."

Okay. Now they've abandoned God.

From the Catholic, gay, conservative but anti-Bush Andrew Sullivan: "Anyone who believes that the world was literally created in six days a few thousand years ago is not expressing his or her 'religious beliefs.' Believing something that is demonstrably and empirically untrue is not religion. It is simply superstition or lunacy. It has nothing to do with faith in things we cannot know. The notion that it should actually be taught in public schools as science is beneath even debating."

Yeah, well Bush really is too a man of faith. Consider the man he appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior Paul Hoffman, who last year overruled geologists at the Grand Canyon National Park and instructed the park's visitor centers to stock a creationist book that explained how God made the canyon six thousand years ago, deciding a flood to wipe out "the wickedness of man" would be a fine idea. The Park Service says that it really could be so. So THERE!

And Sullivan calls this superstition or lunacy.

Why, in central Pennsylvania, in the Dover trial, they're still arguing the inadequacies of evolution and geology in science - arguing science itself, that stuff of the mind, is inadequate and dangerously subversive. Bush and Senator Frist and John McCain have all come out and said science classes in public school in the United States should teach both side of the controversy - science may explain a lot and be kind of cool, but it may be inadequate and dangerously subversive because some things show it's "scientifically plausible" that much of what science hasn't figured out yet was thought up and plopped down here by the old, bearded white man in the sky, or some intelligent designer.

As before - faith (and trust) versus reason (and inquiry), the apple that tasted so good and got us kicked out of Eden, Galileo and the Catholic Church, Voltaire mocking religion and being denounced, Darwin and Huxley all the way to the Scopes trial, to Dover in Pennsylvania this month - this all had not been resolved, and may never be resolved. It's just one long argument, over and over.

The argument escalated when, on Friday, October 7th, Sam Harris' item There is No God (And You Know It) was all over the place - The Huffington Post and Yahoo News and elsewhere. This is an excerpt from An Atheist Manifesto, a book due to be published in December, but somehow it appearing now is a shot across some bow or another.

Harris picks up on the bread- and-butter of cable news on television in America, the abducted cute kid or blond teenage girl of the week -
Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl's parents believe - at this very moment - that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?

But they do believe it. If you can deal with being a voyeur who gets his or her jollies watching parents in agony claiming God will make it all better, over and over, you can watched the interviews. They're on the screen all the time. Yeah, this turning to the Devine protector is a "defense mechanism" of course, even if this entity (or whatever) is something that is neither demonstrably nor empirically present. It's a matter of faith.

And the kid is still dead. Then it becomes trying to understand God's will, and if that fails, accepting His "will" on faith. He knows best, after all.

The other staple of cable news? Disasters! Hurricanes bring good ratings. And what of science versus faith here?
Consider: the city of New Orleans was recently destroyed by hurricane Katrina. At least a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and over a million have been displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely He heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm "of biblical proportions" would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina's path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn't have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. And yet, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that eighty percent of Katrina's survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God.
One wonders why. Perhaps one should ask Bush and Miers.

And this is works for those who have the "wrong" faith:
As hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed mightily in the God of the Koran. Indeed, their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of his existence: their women walked veiled before him; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of his word. It would be remarkable if a single survivor of this tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared through God's grace.
Interesting, Allah is as useless as Jesus. And these disasters make folks believe even more fervently. Harris says, smugly, only the atheist recognizes "the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved."
Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world's suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is - and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.
Yeah, yeah, but people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. That's our fault, or no one's fault. And then they assure each other God is both omniscient and omnipotent? So what's up with that?

The problem:
If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. Pious readers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by merely human standards of morality. But, of course, human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God's goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which he is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that. If He exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy even of man.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: the biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world's suffering at face value. It is terrible that we all die and lose everything we love; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion - to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions, and religious diversions of scarce resources - is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity. It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of society. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.
As you see, Harris thinks too much, and he gets all logical. His position is that atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply a refusal to deny the obvious. The problem as he sees it? We live in a world in which the obvious is overlooked as a matter of principle.

No Supreme Court nomination for him, or even a job with the Park Service.

But it's odd this hit the wires this week - or maybe not.

The Big Speech

Midmorning Thursday, in another "trust me" thing, the president gave his long-awaited speech in which he was going to explain everything about the war in Iraq. Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, tells me that in fairness I should note that when reporters asked about the speech ahead of time - if it was going to be about Iraq - the White House said no, it will be about the War on Terrorism, but will also cover Iraq. And so it did, but since they are one in the same to the White House, there seems little point in noting the distinction.

As before, the speech seemed to be a halftime pep talk, a "we can win this thing" exhortation - but the coach didn't diagram any new plays or suggest different coverage patterns on defense, and he certainly didn't change the lineup at all. He didn't mention the score. He may not know the score.

And by late Friday everyone had moved on. The most complete analysis of the speech, point by point, came from Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor of Middle East studies there, who writes that "Bush's attempt to conflate the regimes he doesn't like with al-Qaeda makes nonsense of his whole vision." Knowing the area, the conflicts, the players and reading and speaking the languages, Cole ended with this: and "as for the rest of your speech, it is all made up as you go along, just like your whole administration."

He didn't like it. Something about the facts and logic.

Cole will never be appointed to anything in this administration.

Who will? Try a second-rate angry Hollywood actor, one of the few who defends Bush as a great man. See this White House Press Release, Friday, October 7, 2005, Nominations Sent to the Senate: "Ron Silver, of New York, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace for a term expiring January 19, 2009."

Yep, peace is at hand. Add your own comments about meritocracy being an outmoded concept, like competence and any sort of background. Loyalty trumps that stuff. Silver's films are listed here. A long time ago he supported the New Jersey liberal Democrat, Bill Bradley. Ah well.

Terror in the Tubes

There was the terror alert concerning the New York Subways - trust us, this is serious, but ride them anyway. That was still being discussed Friday, along with the Friday bomb threat at Washington Monument (hoax) and the Friday bomb threat up in San Francisco on BART, their subway system (hoax). Folks are nervous.

Of course everyone Friday talked about how New York mayor Bloomberg and his men said the threat was specific and credible, and the Department of Fatherland Security (yeah, couldn't resist) said the threat wasn't credible at all, and the FBI disagreed. You heard that stuff all day. (See New Yorkers Baffled Over Differing Stances on Terrorist Threat.) Who do you trust? What do you take on faith, in this case, faith in the leaders you elected to assess these things?

It seems the threat had been out there for days. Why act now? Put on your tin-foil hat, but note these items:

TV news chief held terror threat story at request of officials (Newsday) -
WNBC-TV news veep Dan Forman says he held the report about a possible terrorist threat to New York City after hearing from two federal officials and one local official. "They stressed if we went ahead with the story, people could be placed in harm's way," he says. "We believe we served our viewers well [by not broadcasting the report on Tuesday]."
Craig Crawford here (CBS Public Eye) -
Even more disturbing to me in yesterday's subway warning was New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's comment that a news outlet had gotten the story two days earlier but agreed to withhold releasing it until the government gave the green light. Perhaps Bloomberg's position on this will turn out to be credible, but his claim that the extra time was needed for law enforcement to handle this threat seems worth questioning.

The result was that a news media outlet was persuaded to join a conspiracy of silence until the government was ready to announce the news, which happened to coincide with White House strategy for Bush's speech and also just so happened to serve as a neat distraction from Rove's latest bad news.

Perhaps there was nothing nefarious going on in this case. But as things stand, it is very difficult for the media to initially explore these specific threats to make sure we are not being duped. I don't see how that makes us any safer.
Oh, ye of little faith! See also Whom Do You Trust? (CBS) for more on this matter.

Do you just trust the president in Harriet Miers?

See Gingrich: Conservatives can trust in Miers - or see this: "Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, yesterday [Monday, 10/3/05] held a conference call with conservative leaders to address their concerns about Miers. He stressed Bush's close relationship with Miers and the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration's management of the war on terrorism, according to a person who attended the teleconference."

So it's really about having someone on the Supreme Court, a swing vote, who won't rule against the president's right to imprison anyone he selects for as long as he likes, without charges, or who won't rule against the claim the administration has the right to approve torture and kidnapping (or as we call it, "extraordinary rendition")? Maybe she knows of some other things she can help him with, stuff he shouldn't have done, in a legal sense, as it were. Well that's possible.

One never knows. And knowing anything is getting harder.

Monday the 10th the BBC runs that documentary with this:
"President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did. And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, "Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East." And by God I'm gonna do it.'"
Did he really say that?

1.) White House Denies Claims of 'Divine Order' for Bush
2.) Abbas Says He Never Heard Bush Talking about Religious Reasons to ... (Palestine News Agency, Palestine)
3.) Yes, George Bush did tell me he was on a mission from God (Times Online, UK)

We know less and less every day. Maybe faith really is the answer.

Posted by Alan at 20:44 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005 20:52 PDT home

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